Torres: Champion Of Fortysomethings
Craig Lord
US sprinter says: 'I just want to go out there for all those 40-something-year-olds and show that age is just a number and go out and have fun'

Dara Torres is out to champion the cause of fortysomethings though she laughed nervously at the USA Press Conference when a US hack suggested she was queen of the 'female, forty and fierce' club. An amazing 24 years after she won a gold medal in the 4x100m relay at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Torres, 41, will soon become the first US swimmer to compete in five Olympics and could emerge from beijing as the oldest female medallist among women.

She has nine medal, five of them from her first comeback Games in Sydney in 2000. Now, she has the 50m free and a potential two sprint relay berths in her sights.

'I just want to go out there for all those 40-something-year-olds and show that age is just a number and go out and have fun,' said an enthusiastic Torres. 'It's a great feeling to go out there at my age and be doing what I'm doing. It's been wonderful to be back. I used to have kids come up to me and ask for my autograph but I find adults coming up to me, talking to me and having long conversations ... It's kind of nice to have a different age group following you and, hopefully, I'll represent them well.'

Torres can't wait to get going at the Watercube. 'The pool's awesome ... It's just a beautiful, beautiful facility.' Her keeness, she says, is nothing compared to that she's seen among the crew of teenage girls at their first Games. Some of them were not born when Torres was racing at her first Games. &quote;They're all young, bouncing off the walls and full of energy,&quote; said Torres through a smile. 'I have to remind myself, when it's late or even during the day when it's naptime, that I was like them. So I try to calm myself down and not act like a mom.'

Torres tore a strip off rivals half her age at the US Olympic trials last month, winning the 50m and 100m freestyle finals in times she had never seen before and booked a berth on the 4x100m freestyle relay. She could also race in the medley relay. Both quartets are almost certain to win a medal, if not gold, in Beijing. Speculation about how Torres just gets better with age ran rife. She was ready to respond: beyond submitting to every test thrown at her, she had volunteered to have urine and blood frozen under a United States Anti-Doping Agency pilot programme.

With a sigh, she repeated the line today, adding: ?I?ve repeated this a thousand times and I have done everything I possibly can? to submit to any test possible. It was ?unfortunate?, she said that the testing regime had not kept up with cheats. ?It?s too bad that some athletes have no conscience. I have a conscience,? she added.

So how do we explain the uncharted waters she has swum into? Down at the temple of aquatic sports known as Beijing?s Watercube, Torres stripped off her pants and t-shirt to reveal a body fit to worship. The torso of a teenage boy on the brink of manhood, lithe limbs that make her 6ft stature look all the taller and muscle definition of the thoroughbred variety. She was always a sprinter but the miles mattered back then. More than 60km of slog and plough a week back then. Now, she trains once a day, covers 25km a week, at least in water: the rest of the day Torres treats her body the way Ferrari fine-tunes its engines.

The fifth of six children in a wealthy home in Beverly Hills (there were 10 bathrooms and mom was model Marylu Kauder), Torres spends $100,000 a year ? money earned in part from modelling contracts won during her retirement ? on an entourage of nine experts: a head coach, a sprint coach, a strength coach (Andy O?Brien, of the Florida Panthers hockey team), two stretchers, two masseuses, a chiropractor and a nanny. A price worth paying for a place in history as the oldest female swimmer to ever to race at the Olympic Games. That will not satisfy the supremely competitive Torres. Medals are what she wants.

To get them, she turned to Michael Lohberg, a Florida-based German coach who recommended further help from the German doctor who in 2005 used an isotonic, amino-acid-rehydration drink of his own invention to become the oldest world swimming champion. At 35, Mark Warnecke won the 50m breaststroke crown in Montreal. He then revealed that he had shed 20kg in the months leading up to the championships by taking a potion designed specifically with the older athlete in mind. Having set aside his medical career to pursue a lucrative business in supplements for athletes, Warnecke was conscious that older athletes who improved while taking his products, prescribe for 'faster regeneration and recharging of the muscles', might be regarded with suspicion. He sent his 'AMSport Competition' preparation to the Cologne anti-doping control laboratory for testing. The result: no trace of 'anabolic substances or stimulants'.

Twice married and divorced, Torres, now with David Hoffman, a reproductive endocrinologist and Tessa?s father, is what she wants to be: a role model of health and fitness. She will do more than that if on Sunday she scoops the big prize as a member of the USA 4x100m freestyle squad.